Monday, March 2, 2015

Fiscal cutoff date winnows down bills

House and Senate committees continued to hear public testimony last week as the Legislature prepared for a Feb. 27 cutoff date for bills to pass fiscal committees. Several system request bills remain standing as the Legislature now turns its attention to working on a state budget and passing bills off the House and Senate floors.   

House Appropriations hears corrections education bill

Feb. 25 — The House Appropriations Committee took testimony on a system-request bill to allow community and technical colleges to provide associate degrees in correctional institutions (HB 1704). This would be done within existing funds through an ongoing contract with the Department of Corrections (DOC).

Brian Walsh, SBCTC policy associate for corrections education, testified in favor of the bill. He noted three fiscal benefits:

·         Education would be delivered within existing funds. The bill has no fiscal impact.
·         Corrections education would deliver positive financial impact to the state, bringing in $23,000 annually in taxpayer and societal benefits and a return on investment of more than $20 for every dollar spent.
·         An educated workforce is critical to meeting growing demands from employers. Corrections education would give offenders reentering communities the skills they need to find sustainable employment while reducing post-incarceration costs and chances of that person reoffending.

Veterans, compensation, dual-credit bills heard in House Appropriations

Feb. 24 — About 20 bills received public testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, including bills on veterans residency, faculty increments and dual-credit programs.

SHB 1825 would modify the definition of resident student to comply with federal requirements established by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. Scott Copeland, SBCTC student services policy associated, testified in favor of the measure, explaining that it would ensure veterans and eligible spouses continue to receive educational benefits.

HB 1863 would require community and technical colleges to pay for negotiated step increases — up to a certain amount — even if the Legislature doesn’t provide funding. Colleges would be authorized to use local funds for the increases, up to 1.2 percent of each college’s faculty salary base.

Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director, recognized the need for step increases and expressed appreciation for the proposed cap on increment spending. However, he said the state should take responsibility for fully funding those increases.

“The community and technical college system has requested, and continues to request, state funding [for] these increments, but we have not gotten them for the past six years,” he said.

Brown said the governor’s budget proposal would complicate matters by under-funding faculty and staff salary increases and using tuition revenues to pay for the $28 million balance. 

“Faculty and staff salaries and increments are our system’s top priority, but we cannot manage increments and salary increases without general fund dollars from the state,” he said.

Colleges and faculty representatives are continuing to work on an equitable and predictable solution for funding STEP increases, he said.

Testifying in favor of the measure were Wendy Rader-Konofalski and Bernal Baca, government liaisons for the Washington Education Association and American Federation of Teachers Washington respectively.

SHB 1546 would allow tenth graders to participate in College in the High School and Running Start – two separate dual-credit programs now offered only to juniors and seniors – and waive fees for low-income students. College in the High School is offered in high school; Running Start is offered on college campuses.

Over the next several years, it would also phase out a newer hybrid approach offered by two universities. It’s named “Running Start in the High School.” Like the original College in the High School program, the program takes place in high schools, is tuition-free, and charges students a fee to help offset costs. The difference is that the program also draws funds through the Running Start program.

The bill aims to ensure that Running Start remains a college-based program and to standardize the funding sources for dual-credit programs.

Marty Brown, SBCTC executive director, expressed concern that the substitute bill would delay legislative action on Running Start in the High School by phasing the program out over two years.

We strongly support dual credit programs. As a matter of fact, in 2013-14 our colleges’ Running Start programs allowed 20,100 11th- and 12th-grade students to take college courses, earning both high school and college credit. And nearly 4,000 students were served by our college in the high school programs, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. We supported the original bill but we have concerns about the substitute. The bill should be clear that Running Start is a program on college campuses and college in the high school is exactly that: in the high school. Institutions should not be receiving Running Start money for providing college in the high school merely by calling it Running Start.”

·         Copeland starts at 34:04
·         Brown starts at 1:08:12 (increments) and at 2:01:35 (dual-credit)

Bill update

After Friday’s fiscal committee cutoff, here are the system request bills still in play:

HB 1704 (Pettigrew)Allows community and technical colleges to provide associate degrees in corrections institutions within existing funds through an ongoing contract with the Department of Corrections. This bill has been referred to the Rules Committee.

HB 1705 (Haler)/SB 5619 (Bailey)Ties Basic Education for Adults program funding to a caseload model. These bills did not pass their respective fiscal committees before the cutoff date.

HB 1706 (Stanford)/SB 5620 (Bailey)Grants permissive waivers for building and student and activity fees for active duty military. These bills have been referred to the Rules Committees.

HB 1961 (Zeiger)/SB 5977 (Bailey)streamlines statutes governing the community and technical college system by expiring old bonds, defunded programs, pilots, and waivers. These bills have been referred to the Rules Committees.

Coming up next week

Next week, floor action begins in earnest as members of the House and Senate debate and vote on bills to send to the opposite chamber. Legislators have until March 11 to pass bills out of their originating house for them to continue in the legislative process.